Britain’s Industrial Future

In 3 hours of Labour’s Industry Debate, we didn’t hear a credible plan from the Govt on how they would deliver on industrial jobs, investment and growth. I asked members on the opposite side, did they really come into politics to make working people poorer? It seems that way.


Chi Onwurah 

(Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)

I thank Members across the House for their contributions. We may disagree on how to support our great industries, but we can all agree on the importance of UK industry and the importance of this place talking about it.

With our world-leading universities, our fantastic science base, our national heritage in manufacturing and engineering, our dedicated and flexible workforce and the growing global demand, our industrial future should be bright. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) set out, many of our key industries, including steel, car manufacturing and shipbuilding, are facing existential threats.

In three hours of debate, we heard no credible plan for this Government to deliver on industrial jobs, investment and growth. Conservative Members are unable to explain, for example, why UK car production has halved under their watch since 2016—from 1.7 million to just 860,000 cars this year—or why working people in this country have not seen a real-terms increase in their pay since the Conservatives took office. I have to ask: why did Conservative Members really come into politics? Was it to make working people poorer? It seems that way. The Conservatives have been in power for 12 years now: 12 years of low growth, low productivity—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) says it is relative. We want high-paid jobs, with increases for people.

Chi Onwurah 

Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman has just illustrated yet again how Conservative Members cannot answer the challenge of well-paid jobs across our country and a pay rise for our working people.

We have had 12 years of low growth; low productivity; austerity a-go-go; broken promises and abandoned manifesto commitments; spiralling inflation; the NHS at breaking point; the Home Office broken, and that is according to the Home Secretary; higher taxes; and higher bills for working people. What a record. At the heart of their ideology, Tories do not believe Government can make a positive difference. They do not want to get stuck in; they just want to get out of the way. It is just one long season of “I’m a Tory MP, get me out of here” where British business is concerned.

However, as my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) so ably laid out, the state working in partnership with the private sector can shape and create markets. That is what industry needs: a partner to help plan for the future, provide investment and certainty, skills and infrastructure, research and development, trade and market access. The reality is that our great industries will never get the partner they deserve under Conservative Governments. It is much easier to destroy than to construct. They can crash the economy, but they cannot build the economy of the future.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) emphasised, net zero and growth are not in opposition. Partnership between the market and the state presents the opportunity to build world-leading industries that will last for decades and spread wealth across the country. Labour believes the UK has huge potential for new green industries, such as clean steel, as championed so passionately by my hon. Friends the Members for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock).

With our world-leading research base and universities, skilled workforce and deep capital markets, the UK is also well placed to create new clusters of manufacturing from Bolton to Birmingham. Labour has committed to an additional £28 billion of green capital investment a year until 2030 through our green prosperity plan as part of our British wealth fund.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) said, this country has enormous untapped potential when it comes to electric vehicles. In my constituency, Newcastle University is a leader in research to overcome the challenges of current battery technology. Under Labour, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) emphasised, we will have eight gigafactories to ensure that the next generation of electric cars is made here in Britain. Labour also recognises that hydrogen could modernise heavy goods vehicles and public transport. These are long-term projects, so we will ensure certainty for business with our industrial strategy council to end the farce of long-term plans that do not survive the political cycle.

Science is the foundation of future success, but not content with crashing our current economy, the Tories seem bent on destroying our future economy. They simply are not serious about science. As well as their catastrophic trickle-down experiment with the nation’s economy, they are now trialling Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle” for science. For the past few months, it has been impossible to know both the role and the number of science Ministers at the same time. The hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), who is not in his place, resigned over the previous—times two—Prime Minister’s behaviour. Then he asked for his job back, but that Prime Minister preferred to keep the position vacant. Then the previous Prime Minister gave the brief to the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), but barely had she got her feet under the table when the current Prime Minister gave it back to the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk. Two weeks later, though, we still have not seen any ministerial responsibilities published. The rumour is that the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk has the brief, but the hon. Member for Wealden has the furniture—you could not make it up.

British science is no joke. Labour sees a clear path from world-leading British science to the jobs on which people can raise a family. That is why Labour will aim for 3% GDP investment from public and private sources into research and development, almost double the 1.7% that we have been seeing under this Government, supporting the jobs of the future—in life sciences, artificial intelligence, clean energy, satellite applications, semi-conductors, quantum technologies and marine autonomous technologies, as championed by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard).

Labour would maintain our membership of the world’s largest science funding programme, Horizon, and we will ensure that the wealth and opportunity that science brings are spread across our country more fairly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) called for so passionately.


Chi Onwurah 

I cannot give way, as I must make some progress.

We will help to champion clusters of businesses and universities as engines of regional growth, providing them with the levers and resources to collaborate and innovate together, rather than slashing regional science funding as this Government are doing.

British cities lag behind our European counterparts across productivity metrics. Newcastle, famous for its industrial heritage, is less productive in GDP terms than Gdansk, Lille and Valencia. Unlike the previous Prime Minister, I know that that is not because British workers are the

“worst idlers in the world”.

It is because the Government are not supporting them to reach their potential. Labour will work in partnership with businesses, civil society and trade unions and finally put an end to 12 years of Tory low growth, low wages and low productivity.

Labour’s industrial strategy will deliver clean power by 2030. We will create an economy that cares for the future and that harnesses data for the public good. Labour will build a resilient economy so that we can not only protect jobs in our British automotive, steel and shipbuilding industries, but provide the investment and long-term strategy that we need to be competitive on the world stage. Labour will grab hold of the national prosperity of which Britain is capable and deliver a fairer and greener future.

Today’s debate has shown that the Tories are out of plans and out of ideas. So, here is an idea for them: call a general election and let us put our industrial strategy to the country.

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